Dear Danielle: Should My Client Say I Am Part of His Team?

Dear Danielle:

A client of mine has just asked me if I would agree to put my name and picture to be published in a paper magazine as a member of his team. He is a solopreneur and apparently he wants his company to be included in a directory of the industry to be published in the magazine. He doesn’t want to show he works alone (in fact, he doesn’t as I collaborate with him) so he wants my picture and contact info (which is the email address I use with his company’s domain) to be included. Do you see any issues if I accept his request? Thank you in advance, Danielle! โ€”Mirna Majraj, MB Asistencia Virtual

Hi Mirna ๐Ÿ™‚

I know you’re in a different country, and I’m not sure what the laws are there, but in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Ireland and the U.K., and many of the European countries, the laws concerning the distinctions between employees and independent contractors (i.e.,ย business owners) are all very similar.

And that is, essentially, no one is part of your business team unless they are an employee. If this is true in your country as well (you’ll want to consult with a lawyer to be clear), you want to avoid any appearance that you are one because there are legal consequences involved.

Here’s how I help people to understand this:ย  Are they going to include their attorney, their accountant, their designer and every other professional they are a client of in the listing as well? No? Then you shouldn’t be included either.

Your relationship with him is no different than the one he has with any other independent professional who is not an employee, but is a separate business.

If it doesn’t make sense to include them, it doesn’t make sense to include you in that manner either. It’s not the truth and it’s misrepresenting the correct nature of the relationship.

Here’s a blog post that talks a bit more about this (see the comments in particular): What You Need to Know About Subcontractors.

Some might be wondering what the big deal is.

Well, here’s the thing. Forget about legalities; it’s important and worth our while to maintain these boundaries because too often it becomes a “slippery slope” when we don’t.

Every time you allow clients to take liberties when it comes to your standards and boundaries, you’re chipping away at the integrity and foundation of the relationship.

These seemingly inconsequential concessions ultimately lead to detrimental effects in the relationship. Pretty soon, you’ve got a client who seems to think you’re his employee.

If you’re going to be successful and sustainable, for legal and practical reasons, you need to preserve those boundaries and not allow them to become muddied, blurred or misconstrued.

Plus, (and I’m sure he’s innocently not realizing this), it’s just dishonest to allow him to portray you like that.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of in being a solopreneur. In fact, you could be doing him a huge service by helping him see how he can promote that as a competitive advantage, that the fact that he IS a solopreneur who works with key strategic partners and experts allows him to be more agile, flexible and responsive in meeting his clients’ needs. (Suggest he even use that as a script if you want.)

There are an infinite number of ways it can be worded so that he can still include you, but with a more truthful, accurate depiction about who you are in relation to his business (i.e., his Administrative Consultant and one of his key independent experts).

Plus, I’m a firm believer that ideal clients, if they truly value you, are willing to help you as well. And it certainly doesn’t help you to dishonestly pretend that you are part of his “team.” If he thinks about it, he will probably see that he’s asking you to compromise your ethics. And it’s not polite to put you in that position.

That being the case, suggest to him that if he would like to include you in the article or listing, the best way he can help you and your business (and what you must insist upon since you are not an employee) is by including your full name, the name of your business, the link to your business website and/or your contact info.

You’ll be helping him stay in integrity (and maintaining your own) while giving him the opportunity to support your business at the same time.

PS: At the start of your relationship with any client, be sure there is discussion about the nature of the relationship so there is no misunderstanding moving forward. Also, inform clients how they should refer to you and introduce you to others:ย  as their Administrative Consultant or even simply Administrator. It’s not up to them what to call you and by informing them, you ensure they don’t come up on their own with something that you don’t prefer. The last thing you need is a client introducing you to others as his secretary or assistant.

15 Responses

  1. Danielle, you are so right!!

    You hit the nail on the head every time. In fact whenever I feel myself slipping into “employee” mode I turn to your website and blog to give myself the kick up the backside I need. Whilst I may assist businesses, I am not an assistant, I am a business owner working in strategic partnership with other business owners to get the best out of them.

    I am currently re-working my website to remove all references to assistant.

    As always, thank you for your advice and inspiration.


  2. Linda says:

    Great answer! Yes there is a fine line when you talk about being an employee and a contractor or someone that is self-employed. I wish more people understood what the difference is, there would be a lot less confusion in the business world.

  3. Stephanie says:

    Hi Danielle – great answer, I love your consistency it’s so refreshing…Quick question along the same line – I target financial service professionals (mainly planners and advisors) what i’ve noticed is that they put their Admin Consultant/VA on their “team” but in the description/mini bio (of that person) they mention that they are business owners and some (most) even have a link back to the Admin expert’s site. How do you feel about that approach? I haven’t been asked to be added in that respect but would love your input as a reference.

  4. Hi Stephanie ๐Ÿ™‚

    Hey, it could be free publicity! But everything I stated in the post would apply just the same.

    I would only agree to it on my terms. That’s the only way it would benefit me and my business. And that would be to not dishonestly portray me as part of their team, but instead as one of their key strategic partners, and by listing my full name, biz title of Administrative Consultant, my business’s name, the link to MY website and whatever bio or copy I provide them with. It’s their site, but it’s MY business and I’m not part of their team. You get to say yay or nay to that and how you are to be listed. It’s not up to clients.

    And here’s the other thing. You’re doing clients a favor by insisting on things this way. Because it’s the client, not the contractor, who gets in trouble and has to pay the back taxes, penalties and fines if the IRS deems that they have been working with someone as an employee.

    And really, it just goes back to plain ol’ honesty. Don’t participate in anyone trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. We need less spin and bullshit and lying in the world.

  5. Stephanie says:

    Thanks a bunch Danielle – it makes perfect sense and if I am ever approached in that regard I will definitely have your sound advice in mind ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Mirna Bajraj says:

    Thank you Danielle for your prompt and extensive reply. You always have the right answer! Once more, thank you for being so generous in sharing your wise concepts.

    I appreciate it!

    All the best!

  7. You are very welcome, Mirna!

    You always have great questions, and I appreciate that you value my opinion. Plus, for someone for whom English is not her first language, your writing and communication skills are impeccable!

    Plus, you always remember to say thank you. That does not ever go unnoticed. So thank YOU.


  8. Cathi Dailey says:

    On the other hand, I have a few businesses I’d like to use for subcontractor services, I.e. Networks, accounting, etc. How do I approach them? They are businesses I’ve worked with through clients for awhile. I’d like to refer to them but don’t know how to charge. Should I offer a referral fee or have my clients billed for their services through me? Tough decision.

  9. Cathi, my advice: just refer them. Let them work out the details with the client. Being a middleman is a waste of time and energy.

  10. Rebecca says:

    In Australia we have the 80/20 rule which states if 80% of your income is from one company or source, you are an employee not a contractor or sub contractor. There is a lot in the press over here at the moment as some industries have been exploiting the rule and having the best of both worlds.

    BTW if that was me, I would agree only if I was referred to as a collaborator in my own right, and my own company details were published. You set yourself precedents if you’re not careful!

  11. That makes a lot of sense to me, Rebecca. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Likewise, here in the U.S., even if you have a business and work with other clients, the IRS (our governing agency in these matters) can still find that a client was actually an employer and you a misclassified employee if you were working with that client in ways that constituted employment.

    That’s why it’s so important to make sure YOU call the shots in your business, that you do not work at the beck and call of clients, that you do not report to them or allow them to manage or supervise you or dictate any matters related to pay or hours, etc. And you need to make them understand that working with an independent business is not going to be the same as working with an employee.

    Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  12. Debra-Kaye Elliott says:

    Thanks for this article Danielle. Very informative ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. I’m glad it was helpful. Thanks, Debra-Kaye Elliott ๐Ÿ™‚

    Here’s another article on the related topic of on-site work, which is more expensive than people realize (plus, we aren’t temps anyway):
    Dear Danielle: Do You Ever Work On-Site?

  14. Debra-Kaye Elliott says:

    Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. PN Lewis says:

    So true!! Great advice D!! Plus why couldn’t the client introduce you as a consultant, which is what you are. Seems like he is hiding something. Weird

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